Provinces, regions weigh different COVID-19 factors on reopening: PM

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says individual provinces may go at different speeds when it comes to reopening their economies, but all will follow the guidelines their premiers and the federal government drafted collaboratively.

“Every region, every province, every territory is facing a very different situation right now with different industries, different-sized cities, and different spread of COVID-19. That’s why we needed to make sure that the foundational elements were there, that we could all follow as Canadians, but recognize that different jurisdictions will act differently,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

“But there is a common desire right across the country from all premiers to ensure that we’re doing this right.”

Quebec and Ontario, the country’s two largest provinces, were taking different approaches to easing restrictions amid federal projections released this week that thousands more people would likely contract COVID-19 and hundreds more could die in the coming week.

Ontario and Quebec have about 80 per cent of Canada’s known cases of COVID-19.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has said deaths were rising in long-term care homes, but they were largely stable elsewhere. So he said stores outside the Montreal region could start reopening on Monday and in the city a week later, while primary schools and daycares are also to reopen starting May 11.

Ontario says schools will stay closed until at least the end of May, and Premier Doug Ford has been adamant reopening depends on getting the spread of the virus under firm control.

On Wednesday, Ontario reported 347 new COVID-19 cases, and 45 more deaths, bringing the province to a total of 15,728 cases. That was a 2.3 per cent increase over the previous day, the lowest growth rate in weeks.

On Tuesday, Quebec, Canada’s hardest-hit province, reported 83 new fatal cases for a total of 1,682. Overall, the province confirmed 25,757 cases.

“Provinces have the responsibility of ensuring the safety of their citizens while they look at reopening and we are comfortable that these guidelines lay out a road map that everyone can follow, the principles that will allow them to put in the measures that will keep their citizens safe while looking at reopening various parts of the economy, carefully,” Trudeau said Wednesday. 

Trudeau was speaking ahead of a session of the House of Commons that will be asked to give rapid approval to legislation authorizing $9 billion in promised financial assistance for students facing bleak summer job prospects in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Late Tuesday, the government was continuing negotiations with opposition parties on details of the bill, which was shared with them on the weekend. The Liberals need unanimous agreement from the opposition parties to get the bill passed in one abbreviated afternoon sitting of the Commons.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said his party wants changes that would ensure the legislation includes incentives for young people to take available jobs, rather than stay home and collect the emergency aid.

“Right now, there is no link between those available jobs. There is no incentive to fill them,” he said earlier this week.

“We believe that this program can be improved upon if there is that kind of link so that benefits can flow in a way that ensures that students are still getting experience and still learning a skill or getting hands-on training.”

New Democrat and Green MPs have also been pushing for the aid package to be expanded to include international students who remain in Canada over the summer.

Trudeau said the federal government plans to provide between $1,000 and $5,000 for students who volunteer to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau did not say when the new Canada Student Services Grant will be rolled out, but says specific supports will also be set up for Indigenous students.

The prime minister said the federal government is also planning to extend research grants, fellowships and other support to graduate students and researchers.

The House of Commons has been adjourned since mid-March, except for three single-day sittings to pass emergency aid legislation.

It is meting Wednesday with a skeleton crew of MPs in the chamber in the first of what is to be a once-a-week, in-person sitting, supplemented by one and eventually two virtual sittings each week.

The sittings are intended to allow opposition MPs to continue to hold the Liberal government to account as the pandemic drags on, requiring them to keep physical distance from one another.

MPs held their first virtual gathering on Tuesday, an exercise that was declared a success despite being plagued with technical glitches. The Speaker’s office said approximately 280 of the country’s 338 MPs took part, along with 20 Commons staff.

Trudeau took part Tuesday from his home office.

The prime minister also planned to speak Wednesday with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

By: Mike Blanchfield, with files from Canadian Press reporters across Canada. 

© The Canadian Press, 2020. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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